On October 14, 1960, then-Senator John F. Kennedy delivered an impromptu presidential campaign speech to University of Michigan students, urging them to "contribute part of [their] life to this country" through international service -- the impetus for the Peace Corps, which began the following year. That challenge to serve more than 50 years ago still rings true for students today, as volunteering -- both domestically and internationally -- contributes to a healthier, more productive society.
Where to Find Volunteer Opportunities for Students
For students who can’t wait to do good deeds, extracurricular activities at schools are a perfect place for them to start looking for volunteer options. Key Club, the largest and oldest service program for high schoolers, has local clubs that perform acts of service, from hosting fundraising programs to organizing food drives.
For a broader search, student-targeted websites can offer activities and tools for students to start a project in their community. DoSomething.org focuses on youth social change through national campaigns, and YSA provides service ideas for both mentors and youth.
Public service programs like AmeriCorps State and National engage volunteers in intensive service assignments to address critical needs in the community, and can be a valuable way to spend post-high-school or college "gap years." Applicants must be at least 17 years old for AmeriCorps State and National, which typically includes 10- to 11-month placements at national and local agencies and organizations in the U.S. or U.S. territories.
Finally, many nonprofit organizations offer a number of ways for students to get involved. Habitat for Humanity, for example, provides age-appropriate activities and volunteer ideas on its website, as well as information on how to find a local Habitat for Humanity. And Scholarship America Dollars for Scholars affiliates continually provide college-related resources and volunteer opportunities for students.
Benefits of Volunteering
As volunteers, students experience a number of benefits:
Learning how to make a difference in their community, whether by helping one person or 100 people
Gaining professional skills by delivering vital services to individuals or organizations in need
Experiencing potential health benefits, from lower stress levels to greater self-worth
Setting a precedent for other peers to give back
Improving college and scholarship resumes with a community focus and a dedication to service
One of those scholarship awards is the Scholarship America Dollars for Scholars Student Volunteer Award. Student volunteers in Dollars for Scholars communities can be nominated by their local affiliate; winners earn $1,000 scholarships, and our national Student Volunteer of the Year earns $4,000. (Nominations are being accepted through March 15!)
The Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program also pays off for student volunteers. Since 2001, Kohl’s has recognized more than 19,500 young volunteers and awarded more than $3.9 million in scholarships and prizes. Student volunteers, ages 6-18, are nominated for the difference they have made in their community.
Store, regional and national winners are selected from two age groups: ages 6-12 and ages 13-18. One winner from each age group will be selected for each Kohl’s store. Winners receive a $50 Kohl's gift card. Regional winners receive $1,000 scholarships, and 10 national winners are awarded an additional $9,000 scholarship, plus Kohl’s donates $1,000 to their favorite nonprofit, helping the cycle of service continue. The Kohl's Cares Scholarship Program anticipates awarding more than $350,000 this year to 2,200 students across the nation. If you know a student volunteer who does great things in your community, you have until March 14 to nominate them at kohls.scholarshipamerica.org. (Nominators must be 21 or older.)
We may have come a long way since the first group of 51 Peace Corps Volunteers traveled overseas in 1961 (more than 215,000 volunteers and trainees are now alumni), but the call to service is still just as noble. Keeping the spirit of volunteerism alive in students can mean a successful future for all.